Slow Finns seek swifter degree path

January 10, 2003

Finnish school-leavers will get a faster track to university entry if the ministry of education adopts a series of recommended reforms.

Just 19 per cent of first-year university students come straight from school. It generally takes an applicant two or three years to gain a place in his or her chosen discipline because the admission system is based largely on the results of university entry exams.

To reduce the time from matriculation to university entry, the Higher Education Evaluation Council has proposed a quota system that would guarantee a place for a minimum number of new school-leavers. One aim is to cut the average age of graduation from the present to levels more in line with the rest of Europe.

The council, which has been examining admission practice for 18 months, wants to introduce specific measures as soon as possible to ensure that school-leavers get a realistic chance to start their studies without delay. It recommends that more weight be attached to the matriculation examination taken at the end of secondary education.

The council has questioned the wisdom of the current approach, in which everyone must sit the university entry exam regardless of the grades gained at matriculation. The entry exam requires applicants to show not only an aptitude for scientific thinking but also a knowledge of their chosen subject that goes well beyond the scope of the matriculation curriculum.

The council found that more than 60 per cent of the entry exams were based on a reading list more appropriate for first-year students than for school-leavers.

Better coordination between universities would also allow students to sit entry exams at more than one institute, thereby increasing their chances of being accepted in their first year of application, the council argues. There are on average seven applicants for each study place, but popular disciplines, including languages and sports studies, or those with a very limited number of student places, such as drama, dance and industrial design, have more than ten applicants for each place.

Education minister Maija Rask has yet to comment on the proposals in detail, but she has already said she is not keen on quotas.

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